I am a reader, and have always been a reader. One of my favorite things to do is to stay up late reading into the night, and then get to where I can barely keep my eyes open, enough to set the book down and turn off the light and fall straight to sleep.
Other times when I am enraptured in the middle of a book I’ll surreptitiously glance over at the advancing clock and promise myself, “OK – in such and such a time, I’ll stop reading and go to bed.” But as I get closer to the designated time I think, “oh maybe another 20 minutes” and so on and so forth until I’ve finished the book and it’s the middle of the night and I’m exhausted – but satisfied.Granted this habit worked a lot better when I didn’t have little kids who could wake me up at any given hour of the night or early morning wanting my full attention. But I still can’t help myself.
At bedtime when we were little kids, our parents would tell us we had to go to bed or we could stay up for an extra 1/2 an hour reading. Maybe this is where it started. Who wouldn’t choose an extra 1/2 hour?! Then as we got older, we didn’t have as strict of a bedtime but I remember reading late into the night and if I heard my mom come up the stairs to check on us then I would quickly turn off the light and flip on my side and pretend to be asleep. My heart would be racing and I’d try to slow down my breathing. Sometimes she fell for it (or pretended to), sometimes she was too light-footed and would catch me in the act. She used to tease me that most parents had to try to get their kids to read and here she was trying to get me to stop.
I just loved reading. And I still do. It is one of my favorite pastimes. I love getting lost in the stories. I internalize the settings, I see the characters. I feel their pain, their excitement, their grief. Reading is such an emotional experience for me. Books stay with me and bits of them flip through my consciousness throughout the day, shaping my ideas and my perceptions of things.
Whenever I read a particularly intense book, or a series of books, I feel such a sense of loss at its completion. I feel as if these people are my family, that I am one of them and that I’ve walked their path for so long and now all of a sudden they’re gone. Finished. It makes me feel gutted. It’s like I make a space for them in my life and with that final page they’ve abandoned me, or rather moved on without me.
Now I admit some of you may totally be relating to how I’m feeling, you may be nodding your heads and remembering your favorite stories that have left you feeling this way as well. Others may think this all sounds a bit too attached or dramatic. 🙂 I admit that not every book I’ve ever read imprints on my heart, and changes my psyche, but they all do still leave their impression – their fingerprints on my mind.
One of my favorite things as a parent is to see my children reading, it makes my (retired) teacher heart so proud! We go to the library often, though at times we are a bit of a spectacle. I sometimes wonder if the librarians see us coming and think, oh no, here comes that lady with her four little kids again. We try to go every week or two, and I’m determined despite the pressure of having to tell toddlers to “use your library voice” over and over again, that making it a regular part of their lives will help expose them to literature and develop a love of reading.
The downside of taking FOUR little kids (initially with the eldest just being over the age of 5) to the library, is that it doesn’t leave you a lot of adult browsing time. (Just to clarify when I say adult I don’t mean “adult,” obviously.) I just mean it would be nice to meander through the aisles looking for my favorite authors, reading the dust jackets of new books to see if they tickle my fancy. But with four kids the only thing getting tickled is kid number 3 screaming because kid number 2 is bugging her or vice versa…you get the picture.
So the last few years my library visits have been me, rushing up and down the aisles, pulling books at random off the shelves and placing them into my pram (oh my – I really had to search to think of the American word stroller), and then getting us as quickly as possible to the kid area, where we do story time, or draw pictures, or make insanely large piles of books and movies to check out.
This has been an interesting system for me, doing the blind pick – It’s like those wrapped gifts at the souvenir shops that just say girl or boy and the mystery behind what they might be is almost compelling enough to have you buy it just to see if you get something magical. And some of these lucky dip books have been amazing, and others have just been a waste of time, or too full of bad language to even bother with. I used to never not finish a book. It seemed unethical somehow. But with a few years of randomly picking off the shelves, I’ve definitely given myself permission to do so.
Recently I took some initiative and “ordered” books from online to be put on hold and transferred to my library. “Oooohhhhh” I know, it’s impressive. I googled those sites that list the top 100 books you should read before you die or some such declaration, and picked out a few that I haven’t read yet.
One of those was: The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom.
This story begins introducing an 83-year-old veteran named Eddie who works as a maintenance man at an amusement park by a pier on the ocean. It’s his birthday, and he’s going to die. Now don’t panic this is not a spoiler at all. In fact the first sentence of the book tells you he is about to die, and by the end of the 2nd paragraph you learn that he’ll be killed in an accident from a ride called Freddy’s Free Fall.
You begin to get attached to this gruff old man, who looks after the rides, and who children flock to. You feel bad for him when he is inevitably killed as promised in chapter 1, and yet this is where the novel takes off. He is suddenly free of the emotions of dying, curious as to where he is and whether or not he saved a little girl from being crushed by the falling amusement ride, but mostly he wonders, “Where……is my worry? Where is my pain?” He travels through brilliant colors and space and oceans until he wakes up back at the amusement park feeling young and nimble and full of wonder at having his body restored.
It is here that he meets his “first person” in Heaven.
Throughout the novel Albom writes flashbacks of previous birthdays and you see what events happened to shape Eddie into the man he became. He also introduces 5 people who come to Eddie each to teach him a lesson of how their lives were intertwined. With each subsequent visit his body becomes older and more “decayed” as he puts it, and the deep-rooted emotional and physical pain returns for Eddie to experience and understand.
But this book is not a downer. It’s rather one of understanding. Of empathy. Of recognizing that each of us truly affects the lives of those around us, whether we realize it at the time or not. None of us are alone, and our actions matter, and Heaven can be a place to get those answers and clarity.
I especially liked how in this book, the characters were able to choose their own type of heaven, the place or surroundings that would bring them the most joy and peace. It reminded me a bit of the Lovely Bones, concept of Heaven as well. Here it wasn’t all one glorious placed filled with mansions and streets of gold, rather each character chose places from their lives and experiences that made them feel at home and at peace.
When I finished this book (very late one night), I wondered what my place in this kind of Heaven would look like. I have traveled a lot of the world and of course there are so many beautiful places out there. Of course I would love a beautiful ocean scape, or brilliant flowers or waterfalls, I even considered a cabin up near Hebgin Lake in West Yellowstone where we used to vacation growing up.
But the Heaven that I would pick, the place that by far fills me with the most joy and peace, would be my childhood home in Huntsville, Utah where I grew up. Particularly my backyard.
It would be that golden time of the late afternoon when the sun is getting ready to set and when the light just takes your breath away, and creates long warm shadows across the grass. The fields would be stretched out before me waving gently in the breeze, leading all the way up to the foot of the mountains.
My loved ones would be there swinging on the swing set, jumping on the trampoline, visiting on plastic chairs or sitting around the fire pit.
It would be simple and beautiful.
It would be home.
It would be Heaven.
With that I will end this post. I had initially intended to write summaries/reviews of the 5 books that I’ve recently finished, but this post has evolved a different way and I’ll save the rest for another time. I definitely recommend reading this book. It was interesting and engaging. It was tender and sad.
It is well worth your time and goes on the list of books that could change your life for the better. Happy reading!
ps: A year or so ago I read The Timekeeper by Mitch Albom as well and really enjoyed it and would recommend it to your list as well!
pps: I can’t end this post without completing the rest of the song that has been playing in my head since writing the title:
“Take a look. It’s in a book.
The Reading Rainbow…….”